St Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world.
It dominates tourism in Rome and is arguably the most stunning building in the city.
More than 5 Million tourists visit this Roman Basilica every year.
People from all around the world visit St Peter’s Basilica to experience the grandeur of art, architecture, and culture.
St Peter’s Basilica facts
The St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the greatest renaissance architectural marvel with its deep-rooted history and cultural significance.
With so much history behind it there are some amazing facts out that about St Peter’s Basilica.
Some are documented St Peter’s facts and some are just legends or myths.
For example, did you know the Pietà in St Peter’s Basilica is the only work Michelangelo ever signed?
Some of these facts are academic and some are just fun trivia.
1. The current Basilica is NOT the original Basilica
The current St. Peter’s Basilica, is not the original Basilica of St. Peter. The original Basilica was built by Emperor Constantine, the Roman empire’s first Christian emperor.
He built the Basilica in the 4th century on the spot where St Peter was believed to be buried.
However, by the early Renaissance, the church was falling apart and was in serious despair.
It was then that Pope Julius II decided to tear down the old structure and build a new Basilica in its place.
Though, this was not easy for Pope Julius to start the construction he had to go head to head with the best artist of the time Michelangelo.
2. St Peter’s Basilica houses Michelangelo’s Pieta
Pietà is a sculpture by Michelangelo from Renaissance days.
The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome.
The masterpiece has been subject to abuse at the St. Peter’s Basilica.
In the early 1700s four fingers of the statue broke which were repaired in 1736.
However, the statue took a major hit in 1972, when a geologist named Laszlo Toth did significant damage to the statue with a geologist’s hammer.
Post this attack the statue was restored and ever since has been carefully protected in a bulletproof glass.
3. There are 100+ tombs in St Peter’s Basilica
There are over 100 tombs in St Peter’s Basilica. These include 91 tombs of former popes and tombs of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II and Swedish Queen Christina.
Queen Christina abdicated the throne to convert to Catholicism.
The most prominent one, of course, is St Peter’s tomb, on which the Basilica is built.
It is believed that it was from the tomb of St. Peter, that the Gospel spread throughout Europe and then to the whole world.
4. St Peter’s Basilica isn’t a Cathedral
The St. Peter’s Basilica isn’t a cathedral or an official seat of the Pope. St. Peter’s Basilica is also not the most prominent of Rome’s Basilicas.
Both these titles are in fact held by San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran).
However, since St Peter’s Basilica is next to the residence of the Pope and because of its size, the church’s crucial ceremonies are held there.
Must Read: Before you plan St Peter’s Basilica visit
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5. The Holy Door opens on special occasions
The holy door at the St. Peter’s Basilica is only opened during the holy years – every 25 years. These holy years are announced by the Pope.
The Holy door at St Peter’s Basilica was also opened for the Jubilee years in 1933-34 and 1983-84.
When the Holy Door opens, pilgrims enter through the holy door to gain the plenary indulgences (an act which reduces the punishment for sins after death).
The Holy Door represents Jesus Christ.
6. 100,000 pounds of bronze was used to build Baldacchino
Baldacchino is a bronze canopy supported by four spiral columns, richly decorated with gold, which majestically rises upward.
It was the first masterpiece that the 26-years old Gianlorenzo Bernini built for St Peter’s Basilica.
The structure is placed right under the imposing dome of St Peter’s Basilica which makes the Baldacchino look small.
Just to give you an idea of their dimensions – the dome is 452 feet high (138 meters) while the Baldacchino is 96 feet (29 meters) tall.
In fact, Baldacchino was built using 100,000 pounds (45350 Kgs) of bronze.
7. The artwork inside St. Peter’s Basilica aren’t paintings
None of the artwork inside St. Peter’s Basilica is a painting. They just appear to be paintings.
From frescoes in the dome to the huge art hanging on the walls, none of it was painted.
All this art is in fact mosaics that have been done with so much elaborate detail and the tesserae (pieces of glass used to make a mosaic) that they appear to be paintings.
8. Climbing to the top of Michelangelo’s dome isn’t easy
The dome of St Peter’s Basilica dominates the skyline of Rome.
The imposing dome can only be reached by climbing up the 421 steps to reach the top.
The stairs are not an easy climb for they are narrow and there is no space for railings. There is just one rope, which you can hold for support while climbing.
In recent times, an elevator has been installed which helps you save 171 steps. Now if you use the elevator you only must walk up 250 steps.
9. The colonnade has about 140 statues
The top of the colonnade outside the St Peter’s Basilica has about 140 statues of various saints.
These statues were built over 41 years – from 1662 to 1703.
The statues were created by various artists, but only the names of some of the artists were recorded.
10. The feet of St Peter’s statue has worn thin
St. Peter’s statue at the Basilica is portrayed as if he is blessing the pilgrims even as he holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Pilgrims visiting St Peter’s Basilica have traditionally touched and kissed the statue’s feet.
Usually, the pilgrims touch his feet asking him to be merciful and open the gates of heaven for them once they die.
With millions of pilgrims having touched the feet, they have worn thin.
11. The center door was part of old Basilica
The central door of the current Basilica was used in the earlier Basilica built at the same spot.
It was made by Florentine artist Antonio Averulino (also referred to as known as Filarete) around 1455.
The elegant workmanship on the central door is a hymn to Christ, the Virgin Mary and to the apostles Peter and Paul.
This 19.50 Euros, self-guided tour ticket helps avoid long waiting lines.
This guided tour of St Peter’s Basilica costs Euros 45 per person
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